Exclusion and Conflict at The Porgera Gold Mine

The issue of inclusive development is complex at Porgera, and exclusion, (associated with inequalities within community and particularly between recent migrants and landowners), is an important contributor to conflicts at Porgera. In addition to debates regarding the mine’s national contribution, its local effects and comparisons with its environmental impacts to Ok Tedi and Bougainville , Porgera is notable for three contentious issues that continue to provoke debate around the contribution to human development of both the mine and the sector generally: the Fly-In, Fly-Out (FIFO) workforce, resettlement and ‘illegal miners’.

A significant original point of contention at Porgera was the FIFO nature of the non-local workforce. Landowners in particular had pushed for the bulk of the workforce to live, with their families, at Porgera, but for a variety of reasons (including upfront costs and concerns around security) the agreements provided for both the staged development of a new township at Paiam, and the staged reduction of the FIFO component of the workforce, subject to satisfying the security concerns. The FIFO debate, which has also arisen at Misima and Lihir as well as Porgera and is a key point of discussion in the current review of the Mining Act, is based on differing viewpoints on the costs and benefits of housing all mine employees in townships close to the mine (Tabubil at Ok Tedi is the one significant purpose built town housing a mine’s workforce in Papua New Guinea). While there is likely to be some local economic leakage from a FIFO workforce (although the evidence is less clear than some of the assertions made), others argue that there are likely to be a range of social problems created in mining townships, especially where such towns are easily accessed by surrounding populations (such as at Porgera), there are questions about the sustainability of purpose built towns post-mining, and significant additional upfront costs associated with construction of a permanent township which can potentially affect the viability of projects.

One of the other key issues at Porgera is the issue of resettlement of landowners. Under the original Relocation Agreement, landowners whose houses and lands were required for the mine development were compensated and provided with a relocation house that was constructed for them on land that the landowners identified. The importance of land, and the desire to stay close to their lands, meant that the early relocations occurred mainly within the Special Mining Lease area, but over time population growth and high-levels of migration from kin and other related people has meant these relocation settlements have become severely overcrowded and lacking in facilities for the population. Constant calls for complete relocation from the leases – which may have some advantages for the company in terms of long-term mine planning – have been complicated by the need to establish eligibility criteria for this assistance, and the need to identify other land to relocate people to, given most now have little land over which they can still exercise primary rights. This situation at Porgera has led a push from the regulator (the Department of Mineral Policy and Geohazard Management and the Mineral Resources Authority) to develop a more comprehensive resettlement policy in line with international standards (such as the IFC Performance standards on involuntary resettlement).

The standard of environmental health and general living conditions within the mining lease has also been complicated by the fact that unlike the other major mines, Porgera’s ore contains visible gold, potentially accessible by hand techniques. This has created a situation where at times hundreds of ‘illegal miners’ (or ‘local geologists’ as they are known locally) enter the open pit mine at Porgera to collect ore that they then process by hand back in their houses. This places them in conflict with mine security and at times local police as well, with a number of deaths recorded. Many of these ‘miners’ are young migrant men, drawn by the lure of potential wealth, and their presence in the settlements around the mine area has sparked occasional police and security force action, including burning down houses of suspected ‘illegal miners’ in 2014. In recent years reports of human rights abuses by mine security forces and police have been documented and investigated by international NGOs (Human Rights Watch 2011), police and the mining company itself, with charges laid against a number of staff. This is the most recent form of more generalized law and order issues that the mine has faced over its operating life. These issues occur partly as a result of the pre-existing social environment but largely due to the social transformations the mine has brought to the community – particularly the effects of the massive revenue flows into segments of the population, the huge extent of in-migration and the breakdown of traditional forms of social control. In addition, the sometimes over-zealous reactions of the police and mine security that have produced violations of human rights among the surrounding communities.

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